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New lawsuit challenges state law that ends Election Day voter registration in Montana

Montana same-day registration law challenged
Posted at 12:05 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-22 20:40:49-04

HELENA — Labor organizations, disability rights advocates and voters have announced another lawsuit challenging a new state law that ends Election Day voter registration in Montana.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana AFL-CIO, Montana Association of Centers for Independent Living and ten individual voters from around the state have filed suit in the state’s 8th Judicial District Court in Cascade County. They argue the elimination of same-day voter registration creates a particular burden for working people and those with disabilities.

“House Bill 176 should never have been passed and signed into law,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis in a statement. “The unconstitutional law is a slap in the face to more than 70,000 Montanans of every political stripe who have used election day registration and to the large bipartisan majority of Montanans who voted to maintain election day registration in 2014. Not only that, but HB 176 unfairly targets working Montanans, many of whom do not have the luxury to visit county election offices during regular business hours. We will do everything within our power to oppose this law on behalf of all working Montanans and their families.”

The individual plaintiffs have all used same-day registration, and in many cases claim they would not have been able to vote if it had not been in place.

"The most recent partisan lawsuit filed against the Secretary of State is completely baseless, especially considering when the Constitution was signed, the voter registration deadline was 30 days before an election; but the smoke and mirrors attempt to portray House Bill 176 as some kind of constitutional crime -- HB 176 is squarely constitutional," said Montana Secretary of State Communications Director Richie Melby in response to the new litigation.

During this year’s Montana legislative session, Republican lawmakers approved House Bill 176, which closed voter registration at noon the day before an election. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law. Supporters said the change would reduce burdens on county elections offices, and that people would still have plenty of opportunities to vote.

Montana initially approved same-day registration in 2005. Since then, generally between 1% and 2% of votes in the state have been cast by people registering on Election Day. According to the Montana Secretary of State’s Office, more than 9,700 voters used same-day registration services during the 2020 primary and general elections.

The suit argues that being able to register on Election Day is particularly important because that may be the only time that county election offices are open outside normal business hours, and because it gives voters a chance to correct errors in their registration that could otherwise prevent them from voting.

The suit also says HB 176 created an arbitrary distinction, because it maintained a provision that allows voters who move within a county to update their registration on Election Day.

This is the third lawsuit that has challenged HB 176. The Montana Democratic Party sued over it and another bill tightening rules for acceptable voter ID, claiming they disproportionately affected young voters, older people, Native Americans and people with disabilities. Three advocacy groups filed suit over those two bills and another that they argued made it harder for young people to vote. Finally, tribes and Native American advocacy organizations have challenged HB 176 and a bill that put restrictions on ballot collections, arguing they infringed the rights of Native voters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct that this lawsuit is the fourth to challenge HB 176, not the third. We apologize for the error.